But Jair Jurrjens doesn't need my encouragement to pitch like a champ. Last night was his eighth straight quality start. He has gone at least 6 innings in 25 of his 32 starts and at least 7 innings in 15 of his 32 -- including all 4 starts this month. He's efficient, averaging 6.25 innings and just 96.8 pitches per start. He has a 2.70 ERA, sixth-best in baseball.
But somehow all this seems a little too good to be true. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and K/BB are all nearly unchanged from last year -- a K/9 of 6.3, BB/9 of 3.2, and decent but not great K/BB of 1.97 -- when his ERA was a full run higher. His BABIP has gone down 28 points from last year, though, largely accounting for the 39-point drop in opponents' OPS. His groundball rate has gone down and home run rate has marginally ticked up, but his line drive rate has dropped and his incredibly low home run rate -- he's given up homers in 1.7% of all plate appearances, while sinkerballer Derek Lowe has given up homers in 1.9% -- has stayed more or less constant.
Actually, the Lowe comparison may be instructive. Lowe's pedestrian 1.86 K/BB is slightly lower than Jurrjens's 1.97, but more importantly, his BABIP is about 50 points higher. Lowe probably isn't as bad as he's pitched -- but then again, Jair probably isn't as good as he's pitched. Other than the low BABIP, actually, it's hard to figure out just why Jair has been as dominant as he has this year, because so many of his numbers are right around league average: strike and swinging strike percentage, contact rate, GO/AO, and K/BB. Yet even last year, when his BABIP was .307, unluckily high, he still managed an ERA+ of 116. This year, his ERA+ is a stunning 155.
He's only 23 -- so he probably isn't done getting better, either. In his second full season in the big leagues, he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball. I honestly don't understand all the reasons for his success, how much is luck and how much is skill. But after 400 innings in the major leagues, one thing is clear: no matter how lucky he's gotten this year, he's a very good pitcher, and will remain a very good pitcher going forward. And he'll also remain a very cheap pitcher, relatively speaking, for the next three years. It's a shame that he's a Boras client: he's the kind of guy we'd like to keep for the long haul.
Even if it were possible to sign him long-term, though, now wouldn't be the time to do it, after a career year. Even though I predict he'll have a good year next year, I'd expect to see his ERA zoom back up well over 3.00, and possibly back up above 3.50. Then again, like I say, I have no idea what to reasonably expect: I have no idea why he's been so good. I just know that I love watching him.